“New Testament Christians”

This post was suggested by an article I recently read from Creation Ministries International.  This is a ministry, as its name suggests, that specializes in the defense and explanation of the opening chapters of Genesis as being authoritative, accurate and historical.  I highly recommend it and the publications it produces.  You can contact them at Creation.com.

The article refers to Christians, churches and individuals alike, who, for various reasons, downplay the importance of the Old Testament, and especially the first 11 chapters of Genesis.

Without getting into the article’s approach to the subject, may I suggest some reasons why Genesis is important and should be studied, not neglected.

1. It gives an account of the origin of the earth and its inhabitants that is quite different from the science of our day.  It simply says that in the beginning God created….  Evolutionary science tells us that things just simply happened, without rhyme or reason, and we’re lucky that a planet evolved on which life could form and we could show up.

2. Genesis tells us that it took God six days to create everything and that He “rested” on the seventh day.  Evolution requires numerous billions of years for the development of nothing into everything.  Some try to get around this by saying that Genesis’ “days” are really eons of time.  Genesis describes them as “evening” and “morning.”  If eons of time are really involved, then how did vegetation, which was created on the third day, survive without sunlight, which was created on the fourth day?

3. Genesis tells us that man was a unique and separate creation, not just a development from a lower form of animal.  Nor does it tell us, as some have taught, that God took a couple of hominids with which to form a “special relationship.”  God formed man out of the dust of the earth, not from an ancestor of apes and monkeys.

4. Without Genesis, we have no account of why this world is so messed up, or how, as Paul put it, sin entered.  Genesis tells us that man is a fallen creature, under the judgment of God and driven out from His presence.

5. Genesis gives us the foundation and background of the Gospel.  It contains the very first promise of redemption, when God told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.  He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel,” Genesis 3:15.

There is a great deal more we could say about this, no doubt.  Simply put, Genesis is the foundation of the rest of the Bible.  Without it, we lose a great deal of what we need to understand it.

We need Genesis.

Having said that, there is another use of the term, “New Testament Christian,” a term very familiar in my own background and history.

Perhaps the majority of professing Christians believe, in one way or another, that we have to live according to the Old Testament, in particular, the Law of Moses.  They try very hard to mold New Testament believers according to an Old Testament pattern.  From this view, for example,  has come infant baptism, because Jewish male babies were circumcised, and, it is said, infant baptism and communion have replaced circumcision and the Passover.  However, circumcision and the Passover weren’t replaced by other symbols, but were fulfilled in that which they symbolized and foreshadowed.  Circumcision is fulfilled in regeneration, and the Passover was fulfilled in the death of Christ.  Baptism, believer’s baptism, the only kind commanded by our Lord and observed in the New Testament, is the believer’s profession of faith, and Communion or the Lord’s Supper, looks back to the death of Christ, not a release from Egyptian bondage.

From the view that we’re obligated to live by the Old Testament has come the idea of a “national church,” in which one is a member simply by virtue of being a citizen of that country.  Spiritual condition has nothing to do with it.  The New Testament knows of no such thing.  Salvation is a personal and individual thing, not a corporate thing.  Nor is it “familial,” that is, the infant has some sort of relationship with God simply because the parent does.  It was to one who perhaps exemplified an Old Testament relationship to God more than any other person in Scripture to whom our Lord said, “You must be born again.”

Though the term “church” is sometimes used in a general sense, its predominant use is in reference to a local group of believers in a given area.  The NT knows nothing of the monolithic religious structures which have risen since the days of the early church.

Along with the idea of a national church has come the idea of a priesthood, based on the OT idea of priesthood, in which the people of God are separated into “clergy” and “laity.”  While it is true that God has given only some men gifts and abilities to be pastors and teachers, every believer may come into the presence of God in prayer for himself and for others.  Such access isn’t limited to a certain “family” or class of believers.  There is no NT office of “priest.”

Well, then, if we’re not to live by the OT Law, does this mean that we can live as we please?

Certainly not.

While there are no instructions for animal sacrifice or any “ritual” in the worship of God, every commandment of the Ten except one is repeated in the New Testament, along with a great deal else unknown to the Old Testament.  The only commandment not repeated in the NT is the one about keeping the seventh day as Sabbath.

There is a great deal more that could be said about this.  It’s a minority viewpoint, to be sure.  Nevertheless, this is what “New Testament Christian” means:  that we live under the teachings of Christ in the New Testament, not under the rules and regulations of Moses in the Old.

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Whose Rights?

I would like have had the title read, “Whose rights?” but I don’t know if that’s possible with this platform or how to do it.  The reason for the title is that our culture is very concerned about “criminal rights.”  Police have to bend over backwards to ensure that anyone arrested in suspicion of a crime is “read his rights,” and probably anyone hauled in for questioning knows to ask for a lawyer right away.  More than one person on trial has walked away because of some little technicality, some oversight, some “i” not dotted properly or some “t” not crossed completely.

(After I put this away last night, with just a few lines beyond this point, one of the news stations had a segment about serial rape and the problems law enforcement was having with what to do with those guilty of numerous sexual crimes.  The segment showed one individual with a dozen or more such offenses.  In the course of the discussion about what to do with such a person, the officer commenting on it said, “At some point, you run into the constitutional rights of the offenders.”

“The constitutional rights of the offenders.”

I couldn’t believe it.

The Old Testament solution would have been that he wouldn’t have lived to commit the second offense, let alone 11 more – and law enforcement puzzled about what to do with him.

There is no “constitutional right” to be a rapist or any other criminal.

And, yes, I know that’s not what’s really meant, though that does seem to be how some people view it.)

In all this, very little seems to be said about the “rights” of victims.  Nothing was said about the victims of the above predator.  What about their “rights”?

While the Old Testament is concerned about fairness and true justice, it’s also concerned about victims.

We see an example of this in Exodus 21:12-27, especially vs. 18, 19, If men contend with each other, and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die, but is confined to his bed, if he rises again and walks about outside with his staff, then he who struck him shall be acquitted.  He shall only pay for the loss of his time, and shall provide for him to be thoroughly healed  (emphasis added).

Earlier in this description, it’s said that if the injured party died, or even, it seems to say, becomes bedridden, then the other man was to be executed.  If he did not die, and became somewhat able to get up and around, then the other man was responsible to see that he was restored to health and for any wages he had lost.  Not insurance, not the government, not some hospital ER having to write it off – the offender was responsible for the healing and restoration of his victim.

The offender had no “rights,” only responsibility to his victim.  He had no “debt to society,” as we like to put it, but only to his victim.  We wonder how things would be different if we had a similar view of crime and punishment.

We’ve already seen that the Mosaic Law was given to a specific people in a specific context.  As such, it doesn’t mention situations with which we are familiar, like auto accidents or cybercrime.  And it does mention situations with which we are not familiar, like harsh treatment of servants, or about which we have developed different views, like the place of a father in his family, the raising of children or the roles of men and women.

And the New Testament give further instruction.  Because of this, some have said that we don’t have to pay any attention to the Old Testament at all.  I disagree.  While we don’t live under its precepts, and we do live under the New Testament, even the Apostle Paul said that there were some things we could learn from the Old Testament.  In 1 Corinthians 10:11, he wrote, Now all these things [from the earlier part of the chapter] happened to them [Old Testament folks] as examples, and they were written for our admonition.

“Examples,” “admonition.”

In other words, “pay attention.”

There are things there for us to learn.

Voices of Christmas: Matthew.

[This is actually a reprint, somewhat edited, of a post from last March.  However, it’s certainly relevant for this time of year.  Now, it does mention Easter, but Easter would never have happened if it weren’t for Christmas.]

Matthew’s genealogy is important because it tells us that the story of Jesus doesn’t begin “once upon a time,” in spite of those who claim it should.  It’s rooted solidly in Jewish history, in the Old Testament.  However, Matthew’s purpose isn’t merely to show us that Jesus is Jewish.  His purpose is to show us as well that Jesus is closely linked to two great covenants in Jewish history:  the Davidic and the Abrahamic.  Both covenants have national and global significance.  Jesus’ life and death have national and global significance.

Part of the significance of that life and death lies in connection with another covenant essential to the founding of the nation of Israel:  the Mosaic.  Moses wasn’t an ancestor of Jesus so isn’t included in the genealogy.  Nevertheless, there is a connection, though it’s spiritual, not physical.  Israel was given the Mosaic Law as a standard of righteous living, with blessings or judgment based on either Israel’s obedience or rebellion.

The Old Testament is filled with stories of Israel’s disobedience to the Mosaic Covenant, and the consequences of that rebellion.  Israel was never able to attain to the righteousness required by the Law.  Though that Covenant was never made with mankind – there is no “Dispensation of Law” for mankind – yet according to Paul in Romans 2:1-16, Gentiles, that is, the rest of mankind outside the Jewish race, understand the idea of “right” and “wrong.”  These may not agree with the Biblical definition of such things, but there is still that understanding.  The OT Jew never lived up to the Law, and we never live up even to our own understanding of right and wrong.  We can never attain the righteousness God requires if we are ever to stand in His presence uncondemned.  The Lord Jesus came to procure and provide that righteousness.  Hence, the Manger and the genealogies.

We see –

Importance of the genealogy.

1.  It established Jesus as a descendant of Abraham through Jacob (Israel).  This is important because only an Israelite could be king over the nation, Deuteronomy 17:15.

2.  It established Jesus as a descendant of King David.  Only a descendant of David could sit on his throne.  [You might want to check out my post on “The Daughters of Zelophedad” for more about this.]  I know there is a lot of discussion today, with “the kingdom” being considered only as some sort of “spiritual” entity which has nothing to do with the nation of Israel, but the Old Testament clearly requires something more than an invisible reign of the Son of David.  Jeremiah 23:5, 6 says “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute righteousness and judgment in the earth.  In His days, Judah will be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely.  Now this is the name by which He will be called:  THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

Interesting things in the genealogy.

The genealogy is obviously incomplete.  That’s because it’s designed to show connection, not chronology.  Several names are left out, and the ones included are arranged in three sections of 14.  Perhaps Matthew did this to make it easier to remember these 42 names.  Perhaps there is also a connection with David’s name.  In Hebrew, the numeric value of the letters in his name is “14”.

1.  Each segment ends with a decisive event: the rise of the monarchy, the Captivity, the coming of the Messiah.

2.  Each segment involves a different Covenant.  The first segment involves the Abrahamic Covenant, as the promised line develops through Isaac [not Ishmael, who was rejected], Jacob [not Esau, who was also rejected], then Judah, and on down to the Lord Jesus.  The second segment has to do with the Davidic Covenant, a covenant in which the Lord promised David that he would always have a son to sit on his throne. That the Lord Jesus ultimately fulfills this covenant is without doubt.  The question is, how and when?  The third segment introduces the New Covenant.  Though it’s commonly understood that the New Covenant concerns the Church, we only enter into its blessing because of and through the Lord Jesus.  It was actually made on behalf of the nation of Israel, Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:36-44; Ezekiel 34:20-31; 36:16-38 and others.

3.  Each segment has something to do with the Davidic kingdom.  The first sections tells of its establishment.  The second refers to its dissolution.  The third has to do with its re-establishment.

4.  The genealogy is a microcosm of grace.  Consider the names listed in it.

a.  Some were famous.  Who could ask for more illustrious ancestors that Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon?

b.  However, some were forgotten.  Who knows anything about Abiud, Eliakim or Azor, or many of the others in this list.  To a church proud of its accomplishments, and forgetting its roots, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world, to put to shame the mighty, and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.

For most of us, any memory of us will die with us, except maybe for family and a few friends, and when they die, so will the memory.  But those whom the world has considered worthy to be forgotten, God has remembered in His grace.

c.  Some were foul.  Consider Manasseh, for example.  Though son to a godly father, he himself was so wicked that he single-handedly brought on the judgments which later happened to Judah, 2 Kings 21:10-16.  Romans 5:8 says, God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Never make the mistake that God saved you because you were so wonderful, or that you had done something that impressed Him, or obligated Him.  What is wonderful about it, is that God saved you, and me!

d.  Some were feminine.  Women were seldom included in genealogies.  What is even more amazing in this genealogy are the women who were included in it.  One had been a harlot; one had played the harlot.  Two were outsiders, members of races under God’s judgment (aren’t we all?)  One brought with her the scandal of adultery and murder.  One was placed in a situation where she was, and is, considered by many to be an adulteress.  Yet each was given her own special place of responsibility and privilege in producing a link in the chain from Abraham to Jesus.

In spite of the disdain for, and disagreement with, that many have for the Biblical role of women, it wasn’t Christianity that burned a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre.  It’s not Christianity that considers women as mere chattel or that requires them to walk several paces behind their husbands.  It is Christianity that commands husbands to love their wives as themselves, or even more, to love them as Christ loves us, willingly, sacrificially and for their benefit.

There is one final thing, and this is probably the most important.

e.  Some were forgiven.  SOME, not all.  Some people are very interested in their ancestors.  Someone was kind enough to trace my own family back to the Old Country.  There were five families he was tracing and his and mine intersected a few generations back.  My daughter was Salutatorian of her class at the Christian school she attended.  After the graduation, the wife of a pastor of a Baptist church in the area came up to me and asked me if I were the speaker’s father.  I was.  It turned out that this lady and I were (very) distant cousins.  I guess it is a small world, after all.

Lincoln is quoted as saying that people who are always talking about their ancestors are like potatoes.  The only good thing about them is underground.  That’s a little cold, but the truth is, it’s more important what kind of descendant my ancestors have, than what kind of ancestors their descendant has.

The thing is, and these people would have been looking forward, not backward, mere physical relationship to Jesus means nothing, as wonderful as that might have been.  Our Lord Himself taught that in Mark 3:31-35.  His ministry was still its enjoying its early enormous popularity and His family, to put it bluntly, thought He was nuts.  They came to try to talk to Him, and when Jesus was told about this, He said, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?”  And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and My mother.”

Now Jesus wasn’t disavowing His family.  One of the last things He did on the Cross was to provide for His mother, John 19:25-27.  He was simply saying that physical relationship isn’t what gets it done spiritually.  He mentioned “the will of God,” and in John 6:40, He said, “…this is the will of Him Who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life….”  Then, lest someone object, “How can we see Him?  He’s not here!?” He said to Thomas after the Resurrection and Thomas’ doubts about it, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” John 20:29.

There is only one religion (my, how I dislike that word!) in the world that has a Manger and a Cross, and that Cross is empty.  Many deny the Resurrection, but those who came to the tomb on that Sunday morning found it to be empty as well.

Several of my posts have mentioned Easter, and that has really been unintentional on my part.  Even when I started this post 1700+ words ago, I wasn’t thinking about it.  But it’s a week from this coming Sunday [remember, this is a reprint of an earlier post.  But without Christmas, there would be no Easter] – a reminder that Someone has broken the chains of sin, death and judgment that hold us all, apart from faith in Him.  That Someone has come to make a way of access into the presence of a holy, righteous and just God Who must and will punish sin.  That Someone has come and taken that punishment on behalf of those who believe on Him, not an academic or formal or “religious” faith, but an absolute reliance on who He was and what He did for sinners, to the point that if He failed, and He cannot! there is no other way of salvation, no other hope for you and me.

There is, or was, a TV program for children called, “The Neverending Story.”  At least, I think it was for children.  There really is a “neverending” story.  With Luke and John, Matthew gives us its beginning.

Infant Baptism, part 3: The Commonwealth , The Church, and the Covenants

In the first two studies, we looked at how the apostles and disciples understood our Lord’s instruction in the Great Commission.  We looked at examples of who they baptized, even where there were “households” baptized.  In this latter case, the Biblical evidence is clear that those who were baptized heard the word and received it. In other words, they believed.  There is no evidence that the disciples ever baptized infants.

We examined the OT practices of circumcision and the Passover to see if they were replaced with the corresponding practices of infant baptism and Communion in the NT.  We learned that these OT symbols weren’t just replaced with other symbols, but were fulfilled in the realities they expressed.  Circumcision is fulfilled in regeneration, and the Passover was fulfilled in the death of Christ.  NT baptism is the profession of faith in that death, and communion, or the Lord’s Supper, is the memorial of that death.  Without faith, neither of those ordinances are of any benefit, and, in the case of the Lord’s Supper, may even bring judgment, 1 Corinthians 11:28-31.

In this final post, we want to look at any correlation there may be between Israel and the Church, as well as take a look at the three covenants which affect them directly:  the Abrahamic, the Mosaic and the New.

– The Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12) and the Church. 

We noted in our second post the view of R.B. Kuiper that “the church of the new dispensation is the continuation of the church of the old dispensation.”

However, there are enormous differences between the Israel of the Old Testament and the church of the New Testament.

The nation of Israel was just that – a nation.  As such, it was composed of people of all ages, from newborn infants to the elderly on their death beds, and included all of them.  As  such, the relationship was corporate.  Circumcision of 8-day old males was the sign that such infants were indeed part of the nation by virtue of their birth in a Jewish family.  Thus, genealogy played a huge role in determining the certainty of a person’s right to belong to the nation.  Hence, the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles, as well as other lengthy listings of father to son.  This “family” orientation obscured the original meaning of the sign, namely that of the faith of Abraham, through which he was declared righteous.

Further, Israel was the only nation so blessed as to have a relationship with God.  Beginning his remarks to the people before the giving of the Law, Moses told them, “The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all peoples on the face of the earth,” Deuteronomy 7:6.  The Psalmist rejoiced in this truth centuries later, For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special treasure, Psalm 135:4.

As a nation, children were necessarily part of it.  They were the means of its continuation.  Circumcision simply demonstrated that the males were truly part of it .

The relationship of the Israelite to God was national, based only on his physical relationship to Abraham.  Hence, again, the importance of genealogies.  This does not automatically mean that there was a spiritual relationship with God.  If anything, as time wore on, this became obscured and people assumed they were right with God simply because they were part of the nation.  Yet it was to one who was fully vested in all the privileges of being Jewish that the Lord Jesus said, “You must be born again.”  Physical relationship is not enough.

Our Lord intimated this at other times during His ministry.  Early on, His mother and brothers came to try to talk to Him, perhaps because they didn’t understand what He was doing and thought He was acting strangely.  When told of their desire to see Him, He responded, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”  And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother,” Matthew 12:48-50.  See also Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21.  In other words, He was implying that physical relationship to Him meant nothing when it came to spiritual relationship.  In all three of the Gospels, His reply was, in the words of Luke, “My mother and My brother are these who hear the word of God and do it.”   On one occasion, when some lady rejoiced in how blessed His mother had been, …He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Luke 3:27, 28.  Once, He was asked, Then they said to Him, “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent,” John 6:28, 29.

Mere physical relationship was no longer going to be enough.

In Matthew 16:18, our Lord said, “I will build My church (emphasis added) to distinguish His assembly (the meaning of the word, ekklesia) from any other assembly in the world, including Israel (see Acts 7:28).

The church, on the other hand, is not “national.”  Citizenship in a nation does not mean membership in the church.  Indeed, the Apostle Paul warned against giving heed…to endless genealogies, 1 Timothy 1:4.

In Acts 2:41, after Peter’s sermon, Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them, that is, to the young church.

People seldom, if ever, stop to think about the fact that, at Sinai and during most of the nation’s history, the majority of the people did not know the Lord and so were lost.  Even at Sinai, at the very founding of their nation, even then in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, “Make us calves to go before us”  …And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices, and rejoiced in the work of their own hands, Acts 7:39-40.  This is why it was so easy for the Israelites to fall into the ways of the Canaanites, why they were so obstinate and why they continually rebelled against the Lord, cf. Deuteronomy 31:24-29.

If we may use the term, the religion of the Old Testament is the religion of the natural man.  That is, all the ceremonies and rituals, the sacrifices and feasts, even the very giving of the Law itself with its attendant natural and supernatural  displays of thick clouds, thunder, lightning, fire, smoke, the blast of a trumpet growing louder and louder, etc., Exodus 19:16-24; 20:18, these were all designed to impress upon the people the reality and importance of what they were seeing and hearing,.Yet Moses wasn’t even down from the mountain where this tremendous display happened before the people were yearning to return to their old ways and persuaded Aaron into making them the calf of gold, which they then began to worship in a drunken orgy.

Israel was God’s people as a nation, but that didn’t guarantee any individual, to use the modern term, a “relationship” with God.  Indeed, they were shut out from God and had to go through a priest.  Further, in Deuteronomy 29:4, after he had spent a considerable time repeating all that God had done on their behalf, Moses said, “Yet the LORD has not given you a heart  to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day.”  Circumcision might have shown that there was a national relationship with God which no other nation enjoyed, but it didn’t guarantee anything to the individual.

This isn’t to say that it wasn’t a distinct advantage and blessing to be a Jew in the Old Testament, as Paul testifies in Romans 3:1, 2 and 9:4, 5.  Nevertheless, “the Old Testament church” doesn’t merge so seamlessly into the New Testament church as some would like, unless they are prepared to admit that their church, too, is made up for the most part of lost people.

For four hundred years after the close of the Old Testament, there was silence from God.  All of a sudden, like the crashing of thunder, came a voice of one crying in the wilderness…, Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23.  The news spread like wildfire through the quiet countryside:  “There is a prophet!”  But what a message!  He was requiring that they repent! …that they be baptized!  Why, that’s what Gentile dogs had to do if they were converted to the truth!  “We are the children of Abraham!  We’re already ‘members of the covenant community’!”  John had an answer for that, too:  “Do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones,” Matthew 3:9.  He wasn’t done.  So far from having nothing to worry about because they had “the seal of the covenant” in their flesh, John went on to tell the Pharisees and Sadducees, “And even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cast down and thrown into the fire, v. 10.  Jesus tangled with  this same attitude and spirit Himself, John 8:30-39.  This section starts out, many believed in Him and ends then they took up stones to throw at Him.

While there might be be some similarities between Israel and the church, there are also critical differences.  As we’ve seen, “membership” in Israel had nothing to do with spiritual condition.  It was only and simply a matter of proper descent from Abraham.  An inescapable and entirely natural  consequence of that was that children were considered part of “the nation.”  They were its next generation and the means of its continuation. On the other hand, membership in the church has nothing to do with who your parents are.  Undoubtedly, it’s a great advantage and blessing to have Christian parents and a great disadvantage to have ungodly parents, but the one is not ultimately a requirement for nor the other a hindrance to becoming a Christian oneself.  Remember, it was to one fully vested in the nation of Israel that our Lord said, “You must be born again,” going on to explain that “that which is born of the flesh is flesh,” John 3:3, 6.

Israel was favored above all the nations of the world, 2 Samuel 7:23, 24.  She had a national relationship with God, though it is also true that her prosperity or adversity depended on individual obedience or disobedience.  A “nation” can’t exist apart from individuals.  The church, considered as a whole, is “called out” of every nation, and most certainly is not to be considered as co-extensive with any nation or region and all the people in that area members, as in the Reformed view of a “state-church”.

Israel was highly organized, as befitting a nation.  The NT church is both an organization and an organism, something never said of Israel.  The “organism” is “the body of Christ,” to which every believer belongs, regardless of location.  It is expressed and functions through the “organization,” that is, the local church, separate and distinct from every other local church.  It is this local church, or assembly, which is in view in the great majority of NT appearances of the word.  These local assemblies may cooperate in various matters, but there is no NT authority for the huge denominations or monolithic religious structures that we see today.

Ideally, the local assembly is composed only of regenerate, that is, saved persons, but since we can’t see the heart of an individual, it’s true that there are lost church members.  This is certainly so in churches which baptize persons, e.g., infants, apart from a personal profession of faith, or which are careless in their adherence to the NT.  On the other hand, the church considered as an organism is composed only of regenerate persons.  Even the Reformed Study Bible agrees with this.  In a note on “The Local Church,” it says, “Each local church is the manifestation of the one universal church, and will embody the nature of that church as the Father’s regenerate family,” p. 1850.  Unless the Reformed consider their baptized infants to be regenerate, there seems to be a disconnect between this definition and the practice of infant baptism.  The church as an “organism,” i.e., “the body of Christ,” cannot have any “dead” members.

In the title to this section, we referenced Ephesians 2:12.  In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul reminds the Ephesian believers of their condition prior to being saved:  they were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world, v. 12, then goes on to show them what had happened to them when they came to Christ.  In v. 13, he says, But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.   He continues, For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation…so as to create in Himself one new man from the two…that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the Cross, vs. 14-16.

Notice what Paul said.  Christ made “one new man” from them both, that is, Jew and Gentile.  He doesn’t say anything about Gentiles being some sort of spiritual “continuation” of the Jew, but that together they will form a new body “through the cross.”  That is, as redeemed individuals they will enter into a new relationship with God and with each other that has nothing to do with their ethnicity.  Cf. Galatians 3:28.

Regardless of how Israel and the church may be linked in the future, Hebrews 11:39, 40; Revelation 21:12, 14, they will still have their separate and distinct identities.  One is not and never will become the other.

– The Commonwealth, The Church and The Covenants.  

The Reformed view is that there is only one covenant and that it’s simply administered in different ways.  Because of this, the Reformers did their very best to pattern the New Testament church after the Old Testament.  As a result, we have state-churches with nation-wide membership, a priesthood separate from the people, elaborate ritual and liturgy, civil power exercised by the church.  This latter led to the terrible excesses under Romanism, which had the same view, e.g., the Inquisition, and with the Reformers and their persecution and slaughter of tens of thousands of Anabaptists and other “nonconformists” for wishing to follow the Scripture itself and not what the church said.

These excesses form the basis for the so-called “separation of church and state” found in the US Constitution.  Many of our Founders had experienced these excesses first-hand, even in this country under British rule.  They wanted nothing to do with the iron fist of the church in their new country.  It has nothing to do, as currently claimed, with the idea that Christian beliefs have no place in government.  In passing, it’s a shame that the phrases in the Constitution designed to prevent the iron fist of the state from crushing its citizens are progressively being ignored in this country.  But I digress….

There are three covenants in the Bible which directly affect Israel.  In passing, note in Ephesians 2:12 and Romans 9:3  that Paul refers to “covenants” – plural.  He thought there was more than one.  These covenants are the Abrahamic, the Mosaic and the New Covenants.

The Abrahamic Covenant. 

 The basic terms of the covenant God made with Abraham are found in Genesis 12:1-3.  Without going into great detail, they included a given land, a great nation, a good reputation and a gracious blessing “to all the families of the earth.”  This covenant is repeated and somewhat enlarged in the rest of Genesis.  The “land” is specifically identified as the land of Canaan, and its borders and inhabitants are listed more than once.  This is the only land so identified in Scripture.

David rejoiced in this covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, and confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel for an everlasting covenant, saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the allotment of your inheritance.” 1 Chronicles 16:16, 17. 

The provision for the blessing of “all the families of the earth” had to wait for the New Testament for the explanation as to how that would happen.  “The church” is part of it, but there is much more to it than that.  Paul wrote in Romans 4:13 that Abraham would be the heir of the world.  Space prevents us from entering into that thought.

This covenant is unconditional, that is, it isn’t dependent on Abraham for its fulfillment.  God said, “I will do this.”  The vision Abraham saw meant that God took it on Himself, under pain of dismemberment, to fulfill His promise to Abraham.

The Mosaic Covenant 

God is holy, righteous and just.  The expression of His character toward His creation is called the Moral Law.  The Mosaic Covenant is a specific embodiment of that Law to a specific people in a specific situation.  It was the constitution and by-laws, if you will, of the nation of Israel.

This covenant was conditional.  Obedience to it would result in Israel being greatly blessed and continuing to live in the land.  Disobedience would mean that Israel would be judged and ultimately would be kicked out of the land.

Furthermore, Israel was on its own with this law.  Moses told the people this in Deuteronomy 29:4 when he told them that they had experienced all the things God had done for them in bringing them out of Egypt and sustaining them for forty years, yet He hadn’t given them eyes to see or hearts to understand what they experienced.  There were no provisions in it to enable the Israelite to keep it, no provisions in it to do anything about the innate sinfulness of the Israelite.

Jesus was born under that Law and fulfilled its righteous requirements.  The Book of Acts shows the transition period from a Jewish emphasis to a Gentile emphasis.  The early church had a hard time accepting this and it took a special vision from God to convince Peter of it.  The writings of Paul after Acts are embodiments of the Moral Law, not mere repetitions of the Mosaic Covenant, even though perhaps expressed in similar words.  This is why the 4th Commandment is never repeated after the death and resurrection of our Lord.  It is no longer in force.

This Covenant was given only to the nation of Israel.  In Exodus 20:2, God started with “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”  This historical reminder is only applicable to Israel, in spite of the “spiritual” applications that might be made about being delivered from the bondage of sin.  Contrary to a popular viewpoint, there was no “dispensation of the Law” for mankind.  The Law at Sinai was given only to Israel, to make her a nation.

In Deuteronomy 4:6-8, Moses exhorts the nation because of this singular blessing, “Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’  For what nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we call upon Him?  And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?”  See also Jeremiah 11:2-4; 34:13.

The New Covenant. 

We find this covenant given in Jeremiah 31:31-34, “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judahnot according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (emphasis added).

It’s interesting that this tremendous prophecy came to Jeremiah when he was in prison for disagreeing with the leaders of his day about the danger of the Babylonian invasion, Jeremiah 33:1.  Further, in v. 8, God repeats the promise to pardon Israel He gave in 31:34:  “I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they sinned and by which they have transgressed against Me.”

This covenant is also unconditional.  God again says, “I will….”  When one reads Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi, it’s difficult to see how all this was fulfilled at the return from Babylon, as commonly taught about all the prophecies about “the return” by those who deny any further blessing of Israel is possible.

Israel’s rejection and crucifixion of her Messiah did not and will not nullify the provisions of this covenant.  In fact, it’s through that very rejection and the death of Christ that God will forgive Israel of her sin and believers in the New Testament of their sin.  Paul speaks of a time when all Israel will be saved, Romans 11:26, and goes on to verify that with a quote from Isaiah 59:20, 21:  The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” This doesn’t mean, as some have suggested who differ from us, that every Jew who ever lived will be saved, but only those who are alive at the time when these prophecies will be fulfilled.

There were never any promises given directly to Gentiles in the Old Testament.  The only reason we have any hope at all is because the Lord Jesus came and revealed how it is that Abraham was to be a blessing to “all the families of the earth.”   It is through Him, and Him alone, that we Gentiles enter into the covenant blessings of Israel.

– The downside of infant baptism. 

1.  It deviates from Scripture.  As we’ve seen, even the Reformed admit the absence of clear NT instruction for the baptism of infants
2.  It derives from a faulty view of Scripture.  This is seem in the Reformed identification of Israel and the church, and the supposition that what was symbolic in the one (i.e., circumcision and the Passover) must find corresponding symbols in the other (i.e., infant baptism and the Lord’s Supper).
3.  It demand another baptism beside the one clearly commanded by our Lord in Scripture.  He commanded the baptism of believers upon their profession of faith; nothing is said about the baptism of infants on the profession of faith of others.  The Reformed make much of the fact that infant baptism isn’t forbidden in Scripture.  Why this makes its practice okay remains unclear.  There is a very simple, very good, reason why infant baptism is neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture.  Because of the clear command of our Lord, infant baptism is excluded from consideration.  Nothing else need be said about it. There is no room in Scripture for the baptism of any but professing believers.
4.  It distorts the Gospel.  In spite of Reformed disclaimers to the contrary, there is a natural tendency to look to what we have done for assurance of salvation.  If a child is told that, because he or she was sprinkled as an infant, his or her name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life and as long as he or she doesn’t “erase” it, presumably by rejecting the Catechism, they’re all right, then what is their assurance of salvation?  Will they be led to trusting in the finished work and atoning blood of the Lord Jesus or in the actions of a minister and a drop or two or water?  As a corollary,
5.  It deceives its participants.  A few drops of water on their unaware and unknowing foreheads as infants, as well as their Confirmation a few years later (for which there is also no Scripture), is all the “salvation” many people have, but they expect to go to heaven.  I fear there will be multitudes who discover to their eternal dismay and loss that the entrance to Hell has been through the front door of a church by way of the baptismal font.
6.  It dilutes the church.  Instead of the ideal of the Reformed of a regenerated church membership, unless they do really believe in baptismal regeneration, the baptism of infants who are neither believers nor unbelievers adds those to the church who are not regenerated, and, as such, have no interest in or understanding of, spiritual matters.  This doesn’t mean they can’t be “religious.”  Israel had all kinds of “religion.”

Conclusion 

We believe the Reformation was the work of God, and we have the greatest respect for what the Reformers went through.  Even though we don’t agree with everything Calvin, Luther and the others taught or did, we believe that they were used of God to recover much of Europe out of the darkness of Romanism.  We only wish they had returned all the way to the New Testament.  Still, considering their starting point and the times in which they lived, it’s amazing they accomplished as much as they did.  At the same time, the retention of infant baptism sowed the seeds for the undoing of all their efforts.

The purpose of these posts isn’t to attack people, but what we believe to be an erroneous and unScriptural practice, widespread though it may be.  In the NT, baptism is commanded by our Lord to be administered only to believers, who make an informed profession of faith in the Lord Jesus.  None of the things said about baptism in the NT include the idea that infants who are baptized are “members of the covenant community.”

Hundreds of books and thousands of words have been written defending infant baptism.  The few words of these posts (though over 9,000) will not answer everything written in that defense.  Still, we hope you’ve been given something to think about and that, like the Bereans, Acts 17:11, you will search the Scriptures to see if these things are so.

Finally, what is your hope of eternal life?  Are you trusting in the finished work of the Lord Jesus?  Is His righteousness imputed to you by faith and His payment for sins on your behalf the basis of your hope, or is it a few drops of water sprinkled on your forehead when you were an infant?  If you are truly a believer in the Lord and haven’t been baptized on your profession of faith in him, even if you have infant baptism, then you need to be obedient to Him and follow Him into the waters of baptism.